Friday, March 04, 2016

To see impact on Bethesda of MoCo's failed nighttime economy initiative, look down under

County Councilmember
Hans Riemer, architect
of the County's failed
"nighttime economy" plan
When nightlife declines in an urban area, the impact can be felt far and wide. While downtown Bethesda is in no danger of economic collapse by any means, the effect of Montgomery County's failed "nighttime economy" initiative can be most immediately seen by the newly-darkened streets, and the few people found walking along them, as the hours grow closer to midnight.

Since Councilmember Hans Riemer (D - At-large) took office in 2010, and announced himself as the self-styled savior of the "nighttime economy," he got a lot of friendly press. But few results.

Over that time, Riemer also voted for numerous bills that raised the cost of doing business, and lowered already-thin profit margins, for restaurants and bars. And he flip-flopped and ended up defending the County's antiquated government monopoly on liquor, the bane of most Bethesda restaurateurs' existence.

Nine nightspots have shuttered since then, a 24-hour restaurant has closed, CVS eliminated overnight pharmacy hours at its Arlington Road location, and other businesses like Barnes & Noble have adopted earlier closing times.

Even the types of activity the initiative changed County and state laws to encourage have foundered. A planned brewery for downtown Bethesda is struggling to raise capital. Few bars countywide have taken advantage of the new 3:00 AM closing time, and in Bethesda, the lack of potential patrons makes an extra hour unprofitable.

In short, what a disaster. Riemer touted his initiative as a reason to re-elect him in 2014, but the Washington Post editorial board ended up withdrawing its endorsement of him over his results-free record.

Sydney, Australia is going through a similar tough stretch. Ironically, its problems began because government there tried to crack down on nightlife and alcohol consumption. Two different approaches (although it should be noted that Sydney also has a 3:00 AM closing time) on two sides of the world, but the impact is the same.

USA Today reported last month that Sydney's nightlife collapse turned that "once-vibrant city into a cultural desert and [made] the city unattractive to tourists," and that there is "increasing anger" over the resulting economic downturn. The impact on tourism is notable, as several Bethesda-area hotel projects remain stalled since the nighttime economy fiasco began.

Consider this - a large city like Sydney is complaining about 12 bars having closed, while a tiny town like Bethesda has suffered 9 closures, as I mentioned above. Relative to size, therefore, Bethesda has been hit even harder than Sydney.

Reporter Lauren Williams found concert ticket sales declined 40% since Sydney's nighttime depression began, and she quoted a music producer as saying the downturn is "destroying the cultural fabric and economy of the city. There's a complex tapestry of people whose livelihoods are impacted on the closing of late night venues."

Daisy Johnson, a young professional, told the newspaper she "wanted to live in an area with a vibrant night life and a bit of character, but there is nowhere to go anymore."

53 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bethesda ain't no Sydney you moribund Jamoke. Good try at a spin on BIOH. It's all Hans' fault, said the wimpering idiot.

Anonymous said...

2010: Abandoned furniture repair shop at corner of Norfolk and Cordell

2016: Tommy Joe's moves from Montgomery Avenue to Norfolk and Cordell.


Net nightspots lost at these two locations, per real-world arithmetic: ZERO

Per Dyer-world arithmetic: Three, all Hans Riemer's fault.

Robert Dyer said...

8:53: I don't get it - how does a bar moving change the fact that 9 others closed? Just moving doesn't give you a net gain.

Anonymous said...

Let's see your list of "9", Dyer.

Anonymous said...

Relative to size, therefore, Bethesda has a better ratio of bars harder than Sydney?

Andrea Li said...

"Few bars countywide have taken advantage of the new 3:00 AM closing time"

It's an option that a venue can take to their advantage. Not having done so is not a failure of the option itself.

"Two different approaches (although it should be noted that Sydney also has a 3:00 AM closing time) on two sides of the world, but the impact is the same"

Are you saying it's not Montgomery County's fault? Sounds like everyone is having this problem. And they had a completely opposite approach you say? So both methods aren't working?

Sydney's population is something over 4 million and they can't get it right? Bethesda with shy of 100,000 I think something like that has almost 200 restaurants and bars? Sounds like MoCo is doing something right despite the odds!

Anonymous said...

Honestly, bars staying open until 3:00am doesn't really mesh with Bethesda's population. An evening out for smart, progressive people usually involves a show, an elegant, responsibly sourced, carbon offset meal and a well crafted cocktail or two. Most of us are done with our evening and back home by midnight.

This has nothing to do with our age either. By the time the children of us Bethesdians are old enough to drink in bars, they have long since left Montgomery County and matriculated at an Ivy League or small New England school which provides their nightlife for them.

Bars know they can be open until 3:00am here, they are just smart enough to know that the population here is far to thoughtful and responsible to be out at a bar at that hour.

Robert Dyer said...

9:53: You've just turned the facts inside out. As I clearly explained, Sydney's decline was caused by a crackdown on nightlife and alcohol consumption. Read the USA Today article I linked to for the full background.

Second, only 12 bars closed in Sydney, which you describe as having a population of millions.

So having 9 bars close in tiny downtown Bethesda is a humiliating failure for Mr. Riemer and the Council, by comparison.

IT IS MONTGOMERY COUNTY'S FAULT!

Anonymous said...

It sounds like turning your argument around was Andrea's point.

Comparing Bethesda and Sydney makes no sense. Population being one reason. The other as stated that the Sydney closures were for the opposite reason of Bethesda.

Bethesda had a higher concentration of bars compared to Sydney's population. So it was more impressive that Bethesda had so many bars.

Anonymous said...

More on the way out. I think Villain & Saint is doing poorly. Cesco (CO2 Lounge) abandoned plans to offer VIP access long ago. I think Bethesda Blues & Jazz Club (former Cinema n Drafthouse) is not doing well either -- they had a tax lien placed on them a few months ago for unpaid taxes.

But.. what is the solution? I get it that Riemer is taking credit where credit isn't necessarily due, but more importantly, how do we fix it?

Anonymous said...

Is this a serious article or is this a satirical op-ed like what you read in the Onion?

It doesn't even mention the actual net loss of establishments. In any case, we really should be thanking Riemer (if he is in fact directly responsible, as the article insists) that there only nine closures.

Let's look at a few of the many, many closures in DC and Arlington last year...

DC:
Chef Geoff's (Penn. Ave)
Patty boom boom
Bandolero (G'town)
Noelia
Pasta Italiana
Bardia’s (Adams Morgan)
Bread and Brew
Indulj
Dahlak
Mothership
Crumbs & Coffee
mio
DCity Smokehouse
DC Coast
Oya
Meskerem
Uptown Tap House
Eatonville
Islander
Henry’s Soul
Caribbean Citations
The High Dive
Tel’Veh
Zest Bistro
Diego
Mad Momos
Dr. Clock’s Nowhere Bar
Rhino Bar
Black And Orange
Ulah Bistro
McFadden's
Stetson's
Den of Thieves
Murasaki
Rosa Mexicano
Bistro La Bonne (Columbia Heights)
Chief Ike's Mambo Room

Arlington:
Willow
Gypsy Soul
100 Montaditos
Vapiano
kite runner café
Pizza Vinoteca
La Tagliatella
Aggio
Bonsai Grill
Ri Ra
Bungalow Sports Grill
Jay's Saloon

Gueds Riemer must have shared his nighttime initiative policies with those jurisdictions as well...

Of course I excluded convenience/comparison good retailers and fast-food since I (and 99.9% of people) don't consider them "nightspots," but I'm sure that quite a few of those closed or shortened hours or closed in DC/Arlington as well.

Anonymous said...

What did Montgomery County do specifically to make it their fault that bars are closing in Bethesda? Not an argument, just a question.

G. Money said...

What about the existing nightlife in Bethesda is supposed to be a draw to people who live outside Bethesda? What sort of nightlife destination does Bethesda want to be? What other areas are competing for that same scene?

Those questions really need to be answered before you can start to point to things like the County alcohol policy or late night food truck availability as causally related to venue closures. Not to mention that you need to have an accurate net count including both openings and closures.

Personally, I don't know anyone who is interested in Bethesda as a nightlife destination unless they live there.

Anonymous said...

@ Dyer 10:39AM

"So having 9 bars close in tiny downtown Bethesda is a humiliating failure for Mr. Riemer and the Council, by comparison."

Woah, um yeah. Fact checking time. Could you please name the "9 bars" that closed last year please? I'm not saying arguing that the initiative is working or not, just want the names. Thanks!


Aside:
I wonder if Riemer knows that someone has a serious bone to pick with him. Someone should forward this post to him. Hopefully he and Mr. Dyer can have a formal sit-down like mature adults and work out their differences.

Anonymous said...

Dyer won't name the 9 bars... Let's see if we can do it!

100 Montaditos

Ri Ra (or has that been two years now?)

That stupid burrito place

The Roof/Urban Heights (does it count if those were just placeholders for Tommy Joes all along?)

Idiotic Bethesda BBQ

Haven

Parva

That's all I can think of...

Andrea Li said...

Yeah as a younger woman I went out in Bethesda all the time. Now I'm older and have a different lifestyle but my younger friends don't go to Bethesda they go to DC using Uber.

Anonymous said...

Man I love when Dyer writes a idiotic post and unites all readers against him. It gives me hope for a better, more peaceful tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Dyer's "9 bars closed" = Joe McCarthy's "57 communists in the State Department".

Anonymous said...

+1

Anonymous said...

When did Markham's close?

Anonymous said...

At the time that Riemer entered office, the Parva was still the Angeethi Indian restaurant, not a nightspot.

Anonymous said...

Converted to Villian & Saint about a year ago.

Anonymous said...

Steamers? Hard Times? Parkers?

Anonymous said...

Looks like we have at least 9 closures mentioned in the comments alone.

It's fair to analyze the results since Hans made the Nighttime Economy a centerpiece of his re-election campaign. He did not really have much else to tout :)

Still a mystery why MoCo Dems brought him back over other Dem candidates who would have brought more substance.

Anonymous said...

Steamers - Shut down for repeated liquor law violations.

Hard Times - closed because of owner's financial difficulties triggered by a serious illness.

Parker's - FRIT replaced it (along with Sala Thai) with Williams-Sonoma, a win for Bethesda.

Anonymous said...

"Looks like we have at least 9 closures mentioned in the comments alone."

Sure, if you include restaurants. There have also been dozen+ new openings. It's called turnover and it's not necessarily a bad thing (crappy places fold and new places open that are hopefully better, a la Union Jacks and Tapped).

Dyer's claim makes no sense for all sorts of reasons, including the fact he only counts closures and not openings and only considers Bethesda while ignoring the rest of the county. Silver Spring is clearly the "it" place in MoCo these days and has a new restaurant/bar opening every few weeks. Rockville and Gaithersburg also aren't nearly as crappy as they were in past years.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Silver Spring has more entertainment options than Bethesda.

MoCo Council has taken it's eye off the county's crown jewel, downtown Bethesda.

Anonymous said...

If you're in favor of sane development, Robert Dyer certainly is a better option than Hans Riemer.

Anonymous said...

So, Hans is in the middle of his second term. What are his tangible accomplishments?

Anonymous said...

Last I heard, the County seat was Rockville. What's this "crown jewel" talk?

Anonymous said...

Most of the bars that closed sucked anyways and would have closed no matter where they were located. Good restaurants and bars will be a success. Dyer is just bitter he lost to Hans and loves to rant and rave....Gringos, Brickside, Caddies....all successful. Dyer is a Birdbrain

Anonymous said...

4:59 PM Riemer's own supporters can't name a few accomplishments?

Robert Dyer's news site is certainly tangible.

Anonymous said...

Tangible certainly. Sensical not always.

Anonymous said...

Relic and Black Finn closed.

Robert Dyer said...

10:44: Can you really claim with a straight face that Bethesda has more bars than Sydney, Australia?

The perfectly sensible comparison I made was the IMPACT on an area when nightlife declines, as it has in Bethesda and Sydney. Here, it was inept government that also made the cost of running a bar more expensive. In Sydney, it was a crackdown on alcohol.

11:22: Did you read the article you are commenting on? Ask Hans Riemer about his voting record that made it more expensive to run a restaurant or bar, and reduced profit margins.

Robert Dyer said...

5:15: Wrong! Union Jack's and BlackFinn were packed on weekend nights. BlackFinn had a line out the door, and now it's a dead zone.

Anonymous said...

Benny Greenberg couldn't possibly have anything to do with these, could he?

Anonymous said...

Dyer you Bridbrain! Black Finn's closure had more to do with your buddy Greenhill's crappy leases than anything Hans Riemer did! You wouldn't know what to do at a real "nightspot" anyways

Anonymous said...

Oh for heaven's sake.
The idea of a nighttime economy is more than just bars. It's about getting people to the area for a myriad of reasons. Come for dinner, do a little shopping, go have drinks, see a show (movie, music, play,) have drinks, etc. It's not just about drinking in 1 bar until 3AM, it's about moving people from place to place, having a viable option of choices.
I'm not seeing that working in Bethesda.

Anonymous said...

6:14 it's likely most here aren't really Riemer supporters more so than Dyer opponents sick of his illogical ranting and raving without evidence and supporting data.

Anonymous said...

So 7:13, you're saying that people aren't capable of reading several things, extrapolating pertinent information, and writing about them? Everything should be "don't think for yourself, just regurgitate other's data?"



G. Money said...

Dyer @ 10:03 - I'm not making any argument for or against Riemer's voting record. I'm saying that you can't make causal inferences between Riemer's voting record and the closure of any particular "nightspot" without significantly more evidence than you've provided. You can't even make causal inferences between the gross number of closures, because a closure immediately followed by an opening of a new establishment doesn't have any aggregate impact.

Further, it can simultaneously be true that Riemer's policy positions are bad for nightlife, and that even if those policies were changed that Bethesda nightlife would still have the same overall problems.

Can you, for example, provide any estimate of the savings that would be generated by changing the liquor laws? How much of those savings would be passed on to customers? What is the estimated relationship between marginal cost and the number of people coming to Bethesda for nightlife? How does this compare to other factors?

I don't know if Riemer's task force addressed these types of questions in its report. If not, those would seem to be more pertinent criticisms that simply blaming every bar closure on Riemer.

Anonymous said...

@ 9:08 AM has apparently never written a research paper in his life.

Anonymous said...

Why would you compare a blog report with a research paper?
Do you compare a newspaper article to a research paper?

Anonymous said...

@ 10:55 AM: You're not allowed to fabricate data or stories for either. Just ask Janet Cooke or Jayson Blair.

Anonymous said...

That's a joke. As someone who used to go to Blackfinn and Union Jacks (I seriously doubt Dyer you were their demographic), both were starting to get really crappy. Lines out the door for Blackfinn were a long time before they shut down, and only for special events. Union Jacks was hardly full enough to fill the dance floor. Both places were not fun or popular or "cool" enough in the end so they shut down.

Anonymous said...

Sydney, Australia. Being compared with Bethesda, Maryland... Is this a joke?

Anonymous said...

@ 10:44 PM - You'll have to explain the concept of "per capita" to the innumerate Dyer.

@ 10:03 PM - Which policies "made it more expensive to run a bar and reduced profit margins"? Please be specific in your reply.

Anonymous said...

I was told that Blackfinn shut down because there were structural/sewage problems and they got into a fight with their landlord about fixing it. In fact, didn't Dyer report on that way back when? They were essentially squeezed out/lost the argument.

Robert Dyer said...

6:08: No, and it's actually humiliating for the Council, because tiny downtown Bethesda lost 9 bars, while huge Sydney lost 12. Almost the same!

Robert Dyer said...

2:30: If you're their "demographic," then I am a thousand times over. Unfortunately, your recollections are foggy, as both were crowded 3 nights out of the week up until the end. Both had people milling around outside. Now those blocks are dead at night.

Anonymous said...

What does that mean?

Did you ever actually go in?

Anonymous said...

I'd say at 29 I was pretty squarely their demographic a few years ago??!!